19 March 2016

Surprises of southeastern Cameroon

Before our visit in December 2015, we knew that the East Region of Cameroon had a sparse population that was fairly isolated due to a number of unpaved main roads. We also expected that it would be poorer as a result of its distance from the capital and coast, as well as the limited infrastructure. The primary users of the main roads seemed to be logging trucks, which in turn drove a lot of commercial activity.

Dusk soccer match in Yokadouma.
That said, there were a few unexpected qualities of this region. One pleasant surprise is that the Yaounde-Bertoua highway is now fully paved; our guidebook (the most recent edition is from 2011) described the road as paved for only half of the journey.

Southeastern Cameroon also had a surprisingly large Muslim population. We frequently saw Fulani herdsmen with their cattle as we travelled, and indeed the transportation from Bertoua to points north and south was generally run by Muslims (mostly Fulas from the north). Given that the Sahel region is generally where demographics of African countries shift from predominantly Christian to more Muslim (although the West Region of Cameroon is an exception to this norm), this was definitely a surprise. Of course, CAR has a significant Muslim minority which may have contributed to northerners making their way down here.

Main roundabout in Batouri.

The climate was also quite cool, especially in comparison to Douala. We could have done with sweaters in the evenings and mornings in Lobeke National Park, even though the park is in the Congo river basin, which conjures (up) expectations of steamy rainforests.

Distances from Batouri to Cameroonian towns and Bangui, CAR.

Finally, the generator at Hotel Elephant in Yokadouma ran all the way until 5AM!

La Diva Malienne

We went to an Oumou Sangare concert back in October. (I'm catching up, Internet!) It was great. If you ever get to see her live, do.

There are a few parts of the Oumou Experience that are standard diva -  

the commanding stage presence 

the costume changes 

the hair, the eyelashes (sorry, the zoom on my phone didn't do these justice), and so on.

There are also a couple of things that are more specific to being a West or Central African diva, like:

The lady with the really big handbag whose job it is to announce your presence, and 

to help collect the money pressed on you onstage by your public (below). (She needed a sizable handbag - and that's with an assist from the backup singers with calabashes.)

For those of you keeping score at home, farotage is alive and well in Cameroon, although Ms. Sangare's forehead and decolletage were generally left unplastered. The money mostly fluttered to the ground, to be picked up by the handbag holder and the ladies with calabashes.

Did I mention she looked STRAIGHT AT ME?